“Why did we come here?” I thought. Of all the places our study tour group had visited in Israel, none had affected me like this archeological tell at Dan, the site of an ancient altar. The atmosphere seemed oppressive. I did not want to be there.
What made the atmosphere at Dan like this? Here’s the backstory:
When the country of Israel split into north and south after King Solomon’s death, Jeroboam became king of the northern tribes. He feared losing his power to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who now ruled only the tribe of Judah, from Jerusalem in the south.
Centuries before, God had commanded Israel to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate three annual festivals. This the faithful did, year after year. With Israel’s division into two kingdoms, Jeroboam thought that if his people returned to Jerusalem for the festivals, they would kill him and give their allegiance back to Rehoboam.
Jeroboam decided to set up two golden calves in his kingdom where the people could worship — one at Dan, in the north, and one at Bethel, in the south. Then he proclaimed: “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (See 1 Kings 11-12.)
What lies Jeroboam was telling! Obviously, two golden calves did not lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt. (Read Exodus 1-14 to find out what really happened.)
And was it “too much” for the people to go up to Jerusalem? It was 147 miles (236 km) from Dan to Jerusalem — a long trek, but doable. Relatively few Israelites had to travel that far. Bethel was only 12 miles (19 km) away — a three-hour walk! Yet the people followed Jeroboam’s convenient command and began to make sacrifices on the altars at Dan and Bethel instead.
Do we stop just short of victory?
When I understood how close Bethel was to Jerusalem, Jeroboam’s words, “It is too much for you,” struck me hard. I immediately thought of an area in my life where I had stopped short of victory.
After supper I would open a certain kitchen cabinet and decide which snacks I was still “entitled” to that day. I felt out of control and sad about whatever I ate, but I never did anything about it. This had been going on, well, for years. I hated how I lost my joy over it.
Hearing this passage of Scripture caused me to realize: I didn’t have to fall for the enemy’s lies every night. I was actually close to victory! I wrote down what I really wanted:
- I wanted to eat healthy.
- I wanted to eat happy, which meant I had to eat holy. I’m happiest when I’m honoring Him. The Holy Spirit gives both joy and self-control; the root word of self-control in the original Greek of the New Testament is “strength.” When I give away my strength — listening to the enemy’s voice and giving in to temptation — I also give away my joy.
Whose voice will we listen to?
The enemy must have been laughing for a long time about my nightly loss of joy at the kitchen cabinet. He was saying, “It’s too much for you, Judy, to be fully victorious in this area. Don’t worry. You’re not doing anything really bad.”
Thankfully, this striking passage from 1 Kings caused me to review what God says:
- As followers of Jesus, we can have joy and self-control in the power of His Spirit, who lives in us (Galatians 5:22-23).
- We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Victory is not too much for us!
- What we are struggling with may not be a “big” area, but Jesus said, “The one who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10).
I’m embarrassed that the Lord had to take me from the U.S. to Israel to help me in this “small” area. But He wants me to be faithful, a big thing! To Him, every area of our lives is important.
This month I started “No-Sugar November” with some friends to help me take back the control I had given away. Immediately I felt like I was beginning to walk on holy ground. It is holy ground when we desire to honor Him and take steps to do so.
I also decided to revive an old slogan of mine: “None after nine,” and set a daily reminder on my phone for 9 p.m. I came up with this saying after too often getting carried away reading, on and on late at night. I am weaker when I’m tired. Deciding that I wouldn’t read or eat after nine is improving my victory quotient in both areas!
From strength to strength
Interestingly, a psalm I memorized not that long ago talks about the blessings of those who traveled to Jerusalem (here called “Zion”) for the temple worship: “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion … They go from strength to strength. Every one of them appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5, 7).
God strengthened those who followed His command and made the trek to Jerusalem for the holy festivals. He knew the crowds traveling together would have joy in the journey. Joining with friends in my journey to honor the Lord more in my eating has been fun and encouraging.
Their worship in Jerusalem set Israel apart from the neighboring nations that sacrificed to their gods on every high place. When Jeroboam led the northern tribes of Israel astray, they became more and more pagan in their religious practices. No wonder I felt an atmosphere of evil at Dan. A little unfaithfulness had led to a lot of unfaithfulness over the years. I am reminded: I can’t afford to let unfaithfulness multiply in my life in any area.
Fellow traveler, is there an area where, like me, you have stopped just short of victory? Is it really too much for you to stop doing some doubtful thing?
In Christ, we can go from strength to strength, all the way to victory — in whatever area we are struggling with. It’s not too much for us! We may not do what’s right every single time. But when we listen to our Lord’s voice, walking faithfully with Him and with each other, we’ll celebrate the joy of victory after victory — all the way to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Lord, thank You for Your strength on the journey. Thank You for lifting us up when we stumble. Our heart’s desire is to honor You by walking in the victory You make possible. Thank You for helping us grow every day in faithfulness, joy and self-control, for Your glory, and in Jesus’ name.
I made up this song to memorize Psalm 84. Maybe you’d like to be strengthened by memorizing it, too.
Photos by Ed Neibling.
My life changed forever when I came to know Jesus personally. If you haven’t discovered new life in Christ, don’t hesitate to check it out. Life is too short to miss His love and perfect plan for you. Read About “The Nearness of God” or see everyperson.com for more information. You can also read my story of coming to faith in Christ in: How My Song Began.